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Sorayya Mohammadi '21

Lifelong learner and teacher

At age 35, Sorayya Mohammadi '21 will earn a degree confirming what she's long known about herself – she's a teacher.

"Learning and teaching are my passion in life," says the Whitworth elementary education major. "Throughout my life, I was a teacher in different ways, and I believe God made me to be a teacher."

A former refugee, Mohammadi left Afghanistan as a teenager and spent more than a decade in Iran and Turkey before being accepted for resettlement by the United States. During her time as a refugee, Mohammadi dreamed of going to school but had limited access to education. For a time, she took high school courses at a makeshift school for refugees while she taught younger grades. When the school closed, she continued her education on her own by seeking help from friends while homeschooling her siblings.

Sorayya Mohammadi stands outside, wearing a headscarf, on an overcast day with trees in the background."I also went to a private English institution and studied English because I knew I could speak English wherever I ended up," says Mohammadi, who speaks five languages total.

In 2014, Mohammadi arrived in Spokane with her husband and two sons. She quickly passed her English language learners tests and then earned her GED diploma within a year.

"After I got my diploma, I decided to go to college and continue my education and make my dreams come true," she says.

Mohammadi transferred to Whitworth from Spokane Community College. "Something inside me told me that I belonged at Whitworth and would grow here," she says. She was surprised when the university offered her a merit-based scholarship and financial aid that meant she could enroll in the undergraduate day program. "That was unbelievable," she says, "and absolutely God's blessing to me!"

One of the lasting challenges Mohammadi deals with from her time as a refugee is a vision impairment stemming from a lack of medical access. Her condition, called retinitis pigmentosa, is causing her to gradually lose her vision. "Long reading and writing assignments cause me pain in my eye, headaches and blurry vision, but I'll never let limited vision stop me," she says. "My condition even helps me to pay more attention to my students and better understand them and their needs."

This hardship hasn't kept Mohammadi from thriving at Whitworth, where she has fine-tuned her skills in the classroom and consistently made the Provost's Honor Roll.

Mohammadi credits Professor of Education Lisa Laurier as a major source of support. "Anytime I went to her with worries, she sent me back with hope and confidence," Mohammadi says. "My biggest concern was being new to the U.S. and the English language, but she always encouraged me, focused on my strengths, and provided me with resources to learn more about the U.S. and build on my skills."

Laurier says Mohammadi represents the best of what a Whitworth University education can be. "She is going to be such a gift to elementary students and has so many skills that are sorely needed and hard to find, including her ability to translate multiple Middle Eastern languages," Laurier says. "I've had the great pleasure of watching her work with children, and she is so joy-filled when she's with them."

Anne Wilcox

Treasure in jars of clay